Floodlights a handicap for chasing side - Malinga
The Asia Cup got off to just the sort of cracking start the organisers would have wanted - a tight, topsy-turvy match littered with classy batting and bowling efforts, and ending with victory for the home side. One cause for concern, though, is the quality of the floodlights at the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium, which held its first day-night match in nearly three years.
Eight floodlight towers were installed in 2003, but Sri Lanka's hero of the day, Lasith Malinga, said team batting under natural light had a definite advantage. "The lights are not good enough by international standards, it is a handicap for the side batting second," he said after the match. "However, Sri Lanka are used to it as we have played number of matches under this condition. We faced only problems when fielding, the fielders found it a little difficult to pick up the ball at times."
The lights would have only made it harder for the Pakistan batsmen to pick the distinctive low, round-arm action of Malinga, who collected his first ODI five-wicket haul. That included the final three scalps of a see-saw game, but he felt the deciding factor was Shahid Afridi.
Afridi, already charged with the task of uniting a squad notorious for infighting, had hauled Pakistan from a hopeless 32 for 4 to a position of control with one of the finest innings of his career. He dismantled Muttiah Muralitharan and overcame severe cramps to make his first one-day century since 2005, leaving Pakistan only 47 to get off the final ten overs with Afridi and Abdul Razzaq still at the crease.
"I didn't feel much pressure because we always felt Afridi had to finish off the match for Pakistan and it was solely in his hands," Malinga said. "It was a matter of trying to contain him and putting pressure on Afridi, we felt that if we got Afridi at any stage, we would win the match." Afridi fell in the 41st over to a blinder from Kumar Sangakkara, much to the delight of the flag-waving Sri Lankan faithful who had turned up, and the Pakistan tail was clueless against Malinga.
The defeat adds to the pressure on Pakistan ahead of their high-profile clash against India on Sunday, but coach Waqar Younis remained optimistic of reaching the finals. "We are still not out of the tournament, if we win against India we are back in business," Waqar said. "After a long time, we will be playing against India, which is good to see."
As with the batting, Pakistan's bowlers didn't finish off the job after reaching a strong position. "I think the way we got them down to 160-odd for 7 and then let them off the hook to reach 242," he said. "We should have done a lot better in the field, we gave away a few too many runs."
Pakistan's cause was also not helped by their cumbersome start to the chase, with debutants Umar Amin and Shahzaib Hasan struggling against the Sri Lankan new-ball attack. Waqar, however, was confident they would fare better in the matches coming up. "We are in a re-building process, we brought three youngsters in on the tour, and we are looking to bring in some more for the next England tour," he said. "We've got to give them a chance, it's tough out there, but that's how you play top cricket, it was their first game, few nerves around."
The Pakistan batting wears a new look because of the absence of middle-order stalwarts, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf, and the decision to push regular opener Kamran Akmal down the order made the top-order lighter on experience.
Click here to listen to excerpts from Waqar Younis' press conference
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo